LEGAL AID: It won’t be fair and open to all

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An open letter to John Hayes MP regarding the death of English and Welsh justice:

Thank you for your letter in which you state your support for the Government’s reforms to Legal Aid.

You stress that “it is essential that we find a balance between bringing down the cost of legal aid and at the same time ensuring that access to justice remains fair and open to all”.

If you look carefully at the proposals you will see that they will achieve neither.

Costs will inevitably increase as court time is wasted by unqualified people forced to represent themselves and miscarriages of justice will become commonplace, leading to costly appeals.

Thousands of people will go unrepresented trying to defend themselves against prosecutions brought by the state with all of the weight it has to bring to bear.

It is absolute misleading for (Justice Secretary) Mr Grayling to state that if you have a disposable income of less than £37,000 you might still get legal aid, when any equity in your house will be taken into account.

This would leave any homeowner having to sell their home in order to fund their defence.

The need for a qualified lawyer begins at the time of a first arrest and does not end until the conclusion of a prosecution.

Please do not just pass this on to Mr Grayling as I want to know what you think.

Mr Grayling would simply trot out the usual incorrect nonsense about our legal aid budget being the “one of the most costly in the world”.

This is simply not true. The evidence is clear that the impact of legal aid on the criminal justice system makes our spend precisely average when taking into account what other countries spend on judges and civil servants investigating and developing the defence case. The extraordinary excuse that due to the financial crisis we cannot afford to provide adequate funding for legal aid contrasts very poorly with the previously held views across all parties that legal aid was essential.

After nearly becoming bankrupt due to our efforts in the Second World War the political classes nevertheless felt that it was essential that the law be open to all and not just to the wealthy.

Compare and contrast the post war with the present day generation of politicians that are shamefully allowing Mr Grayling to dismantle this once great and internationally renowned legal system.

What is being proposed is the dismantling of 800 years of UK history.

A move away from our democratic system of juries and even lay benches in favour of a foreign inquisitorial system whereby the ferociously independent defence lawyer is replaced by the professional judges and their civil service teams behind them.

This brings me back to the fact that this growing but less independent service will still have to be paid for in the same way.

Many of the systems which are more expensive have the inquisitorial system and teams of judges and civil servants doing what lawyers do in the UK but without our furiously independent legal profession. They are easier to control and manage politically though than lawyers which to most of us in the UK is a chilling thought.

The cuts will cripple lawyers’ ability to hold the police and Crown to account.

Most people are not charged after arrest and many who are charged are then found not guilty, mainly through the help of solicitors .

Solicitor legal aid firms have an average five per cent profit margin so any cut in income more than five per cent leads to ruin.

The Government intends to cut 17.5 per cent overall but for many police station areas the real cut is over 30 per cent.

This will lead to bankruptcy of legal aid firms.

But it is not just about our livelihoods as many of us could have earned a great deal more in other areas of law but felt a sense of vocation and commitment to legal aid.

It is about the people you wish to represent after the next general election when you will by then have seen the damage and wrecked lives caused by this utterly foolish policy.

So this is a last ditch appeal to local politicians whatever your party affiliations to put the interests of the people before party ambition.

Colin Mardell

Holbeach Clough